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Pawleys Island: Town hires firm to hunt for missing sand

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

The sand must be somewhere, but it isn’t on the dunes at Pawleys Island. “The assumption is the sand is off the beach in a bar below the low tide mark,” Mayor Bill Otis said. But he said the town needs more than an assumption.

Storms this winter added to dune erosion that began with the passage of Hurricane Sandy in 2012. In the normal process, sand washed from the dunes by storms moves just offshore then begins building back the beach and dunes in calmer periods. Otis said the dunes still aren’t back to pre-Sandy conditions.

“I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘What are we going to do?’ ” he said. Town Council agreed this week to hire Coastal Science and Engineering to study the sand volumes along the beachfront and evaluate the condition of the 23 rock groins that trap sand along the beach from Pawleys Pier to the island’s south end.

“There’s been extensive degradation of the beach and dunes,” Otis said. Sandy caused the most damage to the dunes of any storm since Hurricane Hugo in 1989, he said, but they were recovering until this winter.

Coastal Science and Engineering has done work for the town before, including documenting erosion on the narrow south end to support a proposal for a new groin in front of the public parking area. The town will take $27,000 from its beach renourishment fund for the study.

“It’s an investment in the future,” Council Member Howard Ward said, noting that the

information will help the town get permits to rebuild the beach when another hurricane hits.

Erosion will limit police in their beach patrols this summer, Chief Mike Fanning said. The department’s all-terrain vehicle can reach a couple of groins south of Pawleys Pier, but after that it can’t get over the groins because of the steep drop to the beach. Officers don’t want to ride over the dunes.

The town has also halted its cost-sharing program for sand fences that help build the dunes. The fence can only be installed if there is a dune in place. “A sand fence on the flat beach is wasted money,” Otis said.

The loss of the dunes over the winter reduced some fences to debris. Even though it’s on private property “we’re getting some grief,” Otis said.

No start date was set for the study, but it should take about six weeks, he said. Coastal Science will also make recommendations to the town based on its findings.

Power lines | Santee Cooper has scheduled construction to start the second week in September on the first phase of a project to move power and cable television lines on the island underground. The $4.2 million project will be carried out over three years with work taking place in the off season.

The project will cost the owners of 415 properties $350 a year over 10 years. The town will pay the balance of $2.5 million. Council agreed this week to send out the first bills in September, ahead of the county’s property tax notices.

The town has no local property tax. The bills for the utility project aren’t binding; the town is counting on owners to pay their share as they did for past utility and beach nourishment projects.

“Is there not going to be some document the property owner signs?” Ward asked.

“It’s voluntary,” Town Attorney David DuRant said. “You can’t make it into a pledge.”

Sewer line break | The collapse of an iron sewer pipe under Myrtle Avenue last month has Georgetown County Water and Sewer District conducting an inspection of 3,700 feet of pipe around the island. The utility used a pump to bypass the broken section until it could be repaired.

“The pipe was in pieces,” Otis said. “It was shocking.” He was told that the sewer gas corroded the pipe, which was installed in the late 1980s. The water district will use video cameras to inspect other sections of iron pipe. PVC pipe will be inserted into any sections of damaged iron pipe.

The town asked the utility to delay any excavation until after Labor Day, if possible, because it will block the streets. But Otis said a blocked street would be preferable to a blocked sewer line, particularly during the summer.

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